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Halloween Treats for 2006

By Paula Guran
October 2006

Looking for a special Halloween reading treat? Here's a harvest tale that takes a twist, a good ghost story, a thrilling mass market thriller, and a haunting historical fantasy -- all highly recommended and all available around or just after Halloween.

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Dark Harvest, Norman Partridge (Cemetery Dance)
There came a point when, as I read Dark Harvest, I turned into a cheerleader. I realized, "Hot damn! Ol' Norm is turning this trope on its pumpkinhead. Go, Norm, go!" Partridge needs no pompoms, but he certainly deserves championship cheers as this fine tale of the dark fantastic should be considered an instant classic. With an opening intentionally evoking a Rod Serling Twilight Zone, monologue we are placed in a small town with Halloween 1963 drawing nigh. The main local celebration involves 16-to-18-year-old males hunting down the "October Boy", a pumpkin-headed supernatural creature somehow grown in a nearby field. The young hero who captures O.B. each year wins release from the confines of small-town life, a ticket to the big world beyond its borders. It's Pete McCormack's first year in the hunt and he's determined to win, but he soon discovers nothing about his town, its traditions, its residents, or the October Boy is as it seemed. Partridge takes clichés from just about any source you can imagine and combines them for a genuinely moving coming-of-age story has nothing clichéd about it.

A Soul in a Bottle, Tim Powers (Subterranean Press)
George Sydney, who supports his drinking habit and whatever else he has of a life as a smalltime dealer of used books, falls in love with a mysterious girl he meets in front of the Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. He's soon faced with a supernatural decision that could alter the past, will certainly impact on three individuals, and may well imperil his very soul. An excellent and eerie ghost story in a lovely little chapbook with decoration and illustration by J.K. Potter.

From Black Rooms, Stephen Woodworth (Bantam)
In this alternate universe, there are a few people born with violet irised eyes who can channel the dead. The government regulates their lives and uses them (or at least the threat of their testimony) in murder trials to give legal voice to departed victims. Woodworth's premise is a rich one and he's taken some imaginative spins on supernatural thriller/mysteries over the course of the series (Through Violet Eyes, With Red Hands, and In Golden Blood -- I've gone back and started at the beginning myself.). Intelligent plotting, solid internal logic, and excellent pacing add to the quality. Violet protagonist Natalie Lindstrom left the North American Afterlife Communications Corps at the end of the first book. But the Corps doesn't care to lose its operatives and it is difficult to make a living. In this entry, she is using her paranormal powers to summon the spirits of famed artists and "collaborate" on new paintings. The agoraphobic, misogynistic, morbid, crazed Edvard Munch is not the easiest "collaborator," but he's jolly compared to madman Evan Markham, a Violet who kills other Violets, with whom Natalie must contend.

Soldier of Sidon, Gene Wolfe (Tor)
Gene Wolfe is so consistently (and, of late, prolifically) superb he's not getting enough credit. Wolfe is producing one brilliant book after another. How many masterpieces can one man make? This book is due out on October 31st and why there hasn't been more acclaim by now is difficult to fathom. Publishers Weekly called it "splendid historical fantasy" but that's a bit like saying Tiger Woods is a decent golfer. Good gods, people, this is a work of genius! Latro, a soldier who suffers from short-term memory loss and must write things down to remember them the next day, first appeared in Soldier of the Mist and then in Soldier of Arete. (Available in an omnibus, Latro in the Mist.) This time he is in Egypt and you are unlikely to ever get any closer to feeling you are actually experiencing an ancient locale than you do here. (As I've said elsewhere, this is the finest work of fiction set in ancient Egypt ever published.) I'm sure there are those who will not care for Latro's fragmented narration, the never-answered questions, and the many levels the book can be read on. That's fine -- they can go read Robert Jordan for their jollies. (Not that there is anything wrong with that.) But for those with the maturity and intelligence to appreciate extraordinary writing -- Gene Wolfe is your man.

Copyright © 2006